Racing & Training
The lure of the 100km enduro events is both unmistakeable and, judging by the fact that the Angry Doctor has just sold out in just 4 days, on the rise. Having never actually competed in one before I was very keen to see what all the fuss was about and what better way to initiate myself than with a ticket for the Dirtworks 100. Apparently it’s not your typical MTB race given that it is virtually devoid of any singletrack but its popularity is unquestionable and by all accounts, an absolute blast of a course. St Albans is a quaint little town about twenty kilometres away from Wisemans Ferry and the main township consists of virtually only a pub (of course) and a few nearby houses. Each year though they are inundated with about a thousand cyclists of the hairy legged variety ready to do battle with the surrounding trails. Some are there with their serious faces on and some are just along for the ride but either way, what a ride it is.
The first eight or so kilometres are a straight out road commute which helps to sort out the more serious types from the stragglers. Having profound delusions of grandeur, I quickly found myself right up near the pointy end with the likes of Troy Bailey rolling along at a frenetic pace. Its one of the delightful mysteries of any MTB event that no matter how much you tell yourself prior to the start that you will start at a reasonable pace and work your way into the race, it’s inevitable that when the red mist descends you charge off like the proverbial bull at a gate as the adrenaline takes charge. It all turned to custard at the first climb though which was so steep that it forced virtually everyone off their bikes and heart rate monitors all around were chirping in song. Once that pain was over though, the next sixty odd kays were a delightful blur of virtually every riding condition imaginable. At times the track was so smooth and flowing through lush green foliage that you couldn’t help but whoop and holler along like a two year old. At other times, the rocky descents were so treacherous that even the thought of getting off and walking seemed even more dangerous than riding and at least remaining on two wheels meant that the pain would be over more quickly. Having dubiously decided that the Zaskar would be my mount for the day’s excursion, I found that I was launching myself off some of the bigger rock shelves because simply rolling off them would have meant certain death. At about the seventy kilometre mark we were presented with one of the most defining moments of any Dirtworks and the subject of many an online forum, the infamous canoe bridge. I had heard many stories about this particular water crossing and its legend is such that this year the organisers had organised for special bands to be produced and offered to any rider than dared to challenge its authority. I was in two minds about whether or not to attempt “the crossing” but having arrived at the same time as a well known fellow competitor, the threat of being forever called little girls names ensured that we both had a stab at canoe bridge glory. It turns out that the stories about the bridge being a thousand metres long and the width of a toothpick may have been slightly exaggerated but a couple of pucker worthy moments later and I was on the opposite bank, thankfully still dry and with my dignity in tact. At that stage I was riding with a couple of other people with whom I knew I would be fighting for podium positions so I was quite disheartened to see them skip away along the short road section as my leg muscles attempted to turn themselves inside out. The next twenty five kays were quite disheartening then as it seemed that just when it seemed that there couldn’t possibly be any more climbing; around the next bend was yet another incline to be suffered through. The only consolation was that I appeared to be suffering less than the other guys because I managed to catch them near the eventual summit and we were testing each other on the final run back into St Albans to see who had the legs left. Four kilometres out from the finish there was a small river crossing which included about a hundred metres of sand. As the other two gents gallantly tried to pedal through it, I took a chance and threw the bike over the shoulder to run through it, the decision to take the hardtail finally paid off! This netted me a fifty metre jump on them and I rolled out onto the road for the final sprint to the finish. Fortuitously, some of the fifty kilometre riders were flying down the road at the same time and I managed to tag onto the back of a couple of them. Legs burning, I put the head down, backside skyward and proceeded to drive it all the way home. There was a profound sense of relief upon crossing the finish line followed remarkably quickly by a profound sense of pain as my leg muscles complained quite vigorously about the past few hours work. A finish time of 4:39odd was good enough for second in the Mens Open category and 16th outright though which was a fantastic surprise given my lack of training over the last couple of months and I now understand why these events attract such huge crowds. Whether you’re in it to win it or simply along for the journey these races offer something for everyone and I now can’t wait for the Angry Doctor or the ‘fling later in the year. The GT Zaskar actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise because I appreciated it far more on the climbs than I resented in on the descents and I did learn a useful, albeit painful, lesson in ensuring that your suspension forks are set up correctly prior to any race. No matter how good ESI grips are (and they are very very good) they can’t compensate for forks which are packing down by having too much damping. Thankfully Fox forks have the damping adjustment on the top which allows for changes ‘on the fly’/ The tubeless Monorails too may have seemed like a bit of a risk but even at 30psi they performed flawlessly both in the grip and rolling resistance stakes. Huge thanks must go to Blackmans Bicycles once again for keeping me rolling on such premium equipment and their unwavering support.